States’ move to the left hurting business
HAVING recently read Horace Camp’s quality article in the Guernsey Press (1 September) describing the ‘Slide to the left’ in our government culture, I would like to add a business response. Horace’s article summarises that there has been a gradual but continuous trend towards the socialist left of government in Guernsey, where excessive spending trends continue until the public (through taxation) simply have no more money to contribute.
The reason for writing is to provide a business perspective on this evident and disturbing direction of travel in Guernsey.
The current Brexit activity in the UK reminds us, as if it were ever needed, that ‘If an army marches on its stomach’, the business community does so on ‘its confidence’. The only demonstrable outcomes of the current UK debate about divorce bills and transitional arrangements appear to be a further collapse in both consumer and business confidence (the latter now at a six-year low), an unfettered rise in inflation, the ongoing depreciation of sterling and a slew of senior executives planning the location of their company’s future European headquarters.
For years, Guernsey has been a lighthouse in this turmoil, a bastion of stability. As an island, we have prided ourselves on confidence and continuity, watchwords for a community that has always welcomed all newcomers, Mary and I included when we started Specsavers back in the early ‘80s. While the modern world is undoubtedly a more volatile place, the government’s approach today seems, perversely, to be one intent on creating instability and stress, hardly conducive conditions for the critical business growth our island requires.
As various recent articles have suggested (including those by Richard Digard), one doesn’t need to look too hard to see clear examples of this: whether it be challenges on the implementation of the new population management laws or the recent decision on the future of education in the island, the latter which has in my opinion simply cast a generation of the island’s youth into the role of ideological guinea pigs and heightened concerns for the business that will, over time, depend upon them. It can surely be no surprise when one hears that the three colleges are filling up with the children of parents opting out of this seemingly vengeful experiment. How will we encourage new blood to the island (together with their families), those people who have the capability and global experience to mentor and develop the vital future skills of the island if, as I start to hear, certain year groups at these schools are already full?
A stagnant property market, high cost of living, ever higher taxation, uncompetitive travel costs, an education system in chaos and an absurd policy on the employment of essential staff is certainly not going to attract any new business into the island, nor the talent that they will need to operate – and frankly could even be a valid reason for existing operators to change their business plans regarding Guernsey. Should this excessive government spending further increase to utilise the recently raised bond, this will result in an ever continuous downward rating of our financial accreditation and status in the market. A downward business spiral will increase unemployment and would of course result in an ongoing further collapse of the property market.
Without stating the obvious, for the island to afford the services that we all desire, it is vital to have a strong foundation for business growth. What is happening to the traditional Guernsey welcome, based on the broad and irrefutable advantages to locate here? What is becoming of the stable, consistent and progressive business environment that we once hailed? With each passing day, one side of the States seems hell-bent on putting down more obstacles for business – even more quickly than the other side can remove or mollify them.
While some of our politicians may (on occasion) listen to constituents, many seem impervious to businesses at the sharp end of the economy. On all these issues there seems to be a denial of any viewpoint likely to disturb the current, expensive direction of travel, multi-million- pound infrastructure projects or empire building of huge, centralised departments. Should this strategy continue, the exit of staff, the reduction of all employment taxes, the collapse of customer service in our traditional businesses and an eventual continuous cycle of financial crisis will surely emerge.
For many years the statement ‘Guernsey is Open for Business’ has rung out like a bell across the world – with the current shift in the governmental philosophy, it is starting to ring hollow.
chairman and co-founder,
St Andrew’s, GY6 8YP.